Captain Max Woodward happy with progress as Hong Kong hunt Asia Rugby Sevens Series sweep
Final round is in Sri Lanka this weekend and Jack Capon, Tomasi Lawa and debutant Jason Jeyam come in to Gareth Baber’s 12-man squad, while Anna Richards takes an unchanged women’s side
There are a lot of similarities between Hong Kong’s 2016 Asia Rugby Sevens Series campaign and that of two years ago, the last time they won it.
Hong Kong won all three legs in 2014, with Japan fielding a weakened side as they prepared for a season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Hong Kong go into the final leg of this year’s series – in Sri Lanka this weekend – looking to notch a third consecutive win, with Japan this time stacking their side with university students.
However, Hong Kong captain Max Woodward maintains that despite the similarities, his side are far more advanced from what they were then.
“To be honest, I think we are starting to understand our game and know our strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
“We’ve got a good bunch of guys that have been in the programme for a while now. The young guys have played a lot more rugby than they had before and we’re a pretty close-knit group and we have played a lot of tournaments together.”
Should Hong Kong win the series they will secure a place in next year’s Singapore Sevens, while the top two teams are guaranteed a spot in the world series qualifiers in Hong Kong a week earlier.
Hong Kong lead Sri Lanka by four points and are perfectly positioned to take the series, even if they don’t complete the trifecta of round wins.
With Japan playing on the 2016-17 world series, Hong Kong will not have to face them in the qualifying competition and Woodward says there are both positives and negatives to not playing them.
“It’s unfortunate that we haven’t had the chance to test ourselves against them at full strength [in this series] more than anything else,” he said.
“They are our bogey team really and unfortunately we won’t get a chance to play them in Hong Kong if we qualify, but we can take that as a good thing as well. We can’t lose to them if they’re not there.”
Mark Wright and brothers Tom and Alex McQueen are missing from the side that played in the last round in South Korea, with Jack Capon and Tomasi Lawa joining debutant Jason Jeyam as additions to the side.
Lawa returns from a long absence due to a serious ankle injury and coach Gareth Baber is confident in his inclusions as his side prepare for a pool A containing South Korea, Malaysia and Japan.
“Tomasi is a great asset in a squad of 12 with his versatility,” Baber said.
“He can play in either the backs or forwards, is a good ball carrier and strong in the offload. Jason came back from university over the summer and has been training with the squad since June.
“He has those attributes that you look for in sevens – pace, good spatial awareness and a very good individual skill set.”
Anna Richards has named an unchanged squad as Hong Kong’s women look to progress through pool games against China, Singapore and Sri Lanka and consolidate third overall in the series.
“We would have to reach the final while one of the others [China or Japan] would have to have a steep fall [to move above third],” Richards said.
“We are more focused on our own performance and consolidating our third placed finish.”
With Aggie Poon Pak-yan still missing through injury, Richards saw no need to make any changes and is hopeful her side can perform better against what is expected to be a new-look China side.
“From what we are hearing they will have a totally different team in Sri Lanka compared to what we have seen so far, with players being drawn from a new province,” Richards said.
“Who knows what will turn up but most of the provincial sides in China are pretty similar and we are expecting that they will again be very competitive.”
Hong Kong men’s side
Max Woodward (c), Jack Capon, Michael Coverdale, Christopher Maize, Lee Jones, Cado Lee Ka-to, Ben Rimene, Tomasi Lawa, Jason Jeyam, Rowan Varty, Ryan Meacheam, Salom Yiu Kam-shing
Hong Kong women’s side
Christy Cheng Ka-chi (c), Natasha Olson-Thorne, Nam Ka-man, Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Amelie Seure, Sham Wai-sum, Colleen Tjosvold, Kwong Sau-yan, Lindsay Varty, Chong Ka-yan, Adrienne Garvey, Yuen Lok-yee